Gaza Strip most dangerous place in the world for a child: UNICEF exec dir
Catherine Russell addressed the Security Council post her Gaza visit, highlighting the 'catastrophic' impact of violence on children
An alarming humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the Gaza Strip, with an estimated 5,500 children reported killed since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas conflict on 7 October. This shocking toll equals the total number of children killed in armed conflicts globally in 2021 and 2022 combined, as per United Nations figures.
On 22 November, UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell briefed the UN Security Council about the worsening situation for children in the state of Palestine and Israel, and presented harrowing statistics.
More than 5,300 Palestinian children have been reportedly killed in just 46 days – that is over 115 a day, every day, for weeks and weeks. Based on these figures, children account for 40 per cent of the deaths in Gaza. In other words, today, the Gaza Strip is the most dangerous place in the world to be a child.Catherine Russell
We are also receiving reports that more than 1,200 children remain under the rubble of bombed out buildings or are otherwise unaccounted for.Catherine Russell
Catherine Russell also promised that UNICEF will continue to call on parties to 'safely release all abducted children'.
Since 7 October, 35 Israeli children have reportedly been killed, while more than 30 are being held hostage in Gaza. Like the secretary-general has said, the agreement to release hostages is welcomed, but much more needs to be done.Catherine Russell
Russell highlighted that the current crisis has seen a significantly higher number of deaths compared to previous escalations between 2005 and 2022.
Of note, the number of deaths in the present crisis has far surpassed the total number of deaths during previous escalations. For comparison, a total of 1,653 children were verified as killed in 17 years of monitoring and reporting of grave violations between 2005 and 2022.Catherine Russell
The UNICEF executive director emphasised that, apart from the direct impact of explosives, rockets, and gunfire, the entire population of children in Gaza face severe threats due to dire living conditions. She also underscored how according to the latest figures, they predict that in the next few months, child wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition in children, could increase by nearly 30% in Gaza.
In addition to bombs, rockets, and gunfire, Gaza’s children are at extreme risk from catastrophic living conditions. One million children – or really all children inside the territory – are now food insecure; facing what could soon become a catastrophic nutrition crisis.Catherine Russell
Israeli airstrikes have targeted schools, hospitals, and ambulances in Gaza, leading to civilian casualties. Approximately 300 schools have suffered damage, resulting in the death of 183 teachers. The World Health Organization reports that 553 people have been killed in 178 attacks on medical facilities in Gaza between 7 October and 21 November. Most hospitals in Gaza are no longer operational.
We are also seeing devastating attacks on schools, with close to 90 per cent of all school buildings sustaining damage. Nearly 80 per cent of the remaining school facilities are being used as shelters for internally displaced people. But even these spaces, where children and families have sought safety after fleeing their homes, have come under attack.Catherine Russell
At the very end, Russell called upon parties to initiate a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
I urge the parties to heed this call, starting with a humanitarian ceasefire as the first step on the path to lasting peace.Catherine Russell
International rights advocates are also urgently calling for UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres to add Israeli forces, the al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas’ armed wing), and Islamic Jihad to his "list of shame". This list highlights entities responsible for grave violations against children in armed conflict, encompassing acts such as killing and maiming, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access.
Adding parties to the "list of shame" doesn't offer immediate protection but serves as a crucial mechanism for accountability. It demands concrete action plans from the involved parties to halt their violations.